Friday, September 24, 2004

Sunday Is My Birthday

Hint, hint.

Swamp Thing, Vol. 4, #1-6

Although I am nowhere near as obsessive as some people, I am quite fond of Swamp Thing. I have fond memories of the first film (but of course it goes without saying that the second is horrible). It also goes without saying that Alan Moore’s run is probably the best Vertigo book ever (even if Vertigo didn’t publish it until years later). The Wein and Wrightson run still holds up surprisingly well. And, although this is a slightly more controversial notion, I believe that Mark Millar’s run on the book is perhaps the best thing he’s ever done.

That said, I’ve kept my distance from subsequent interpretations of the character. Why? Well, come on. Mark Millar wrote as good a conclusion to the character’s adventures as you could imagine. When they brought the book back with Tefè as a hip riot grrrl, I saw that this was definitely a relaunch I could pass on. Sure enough, it didn’t last long.

Because of the fact that I just don’t seem to be buying very many comics lately, I decided to sit out this latest version as well, at least initially. But I had a chance to read the first six issues, so I sat down last night to see what was up with ol’ Swamp Breath.

I don’t think I’d ever read anything by Andy Diggle before, but the overwhelming feeling these issues imparted was one of extreme utility. This was a disappointment. The best Swamp Thing stories have always had some sort of stylstic flair, be it Wein & Wrightson’s pulpy atmosphere, Moore’s unvarnished virtuosity, or even Millar’s high lyricism. Diggle seems very much to be plodding along, putting one panel after another in a very unengaged manner. I am not going to say that the issues feel padded, or are poorly done, but there’s not a single moment throughout the entire six issues where I really felt blown away. It was all very competently executed, but if the best you can do is a competent Swamp Thing, you have no business doing Swamp Thing.

In retrospect, the whole point of this story seems to have been to undo all the weird stuff that had been done by Millar and whomever wrote the Tefè series. At the end of the first arc, they’ve put Swamp Thing back where he was roughly halfway through Moore’s run: after he realizes he’s a "plant who thinks he’s a man", but before he assumes the mantel of the earth elemental (with all the baggage that implies). Although I am sure they felt this was something they had to do in order to make Swamp Thing an interesting character again, it comes off as uselessly reductive and, frankly, just plain uninteresting. The godlike Swamp Thing that Millar left us with at the end of his run was an interesting idea with lots of untapped potential, while the idea of a man-monster shambling around the Bayou again is not only uninteresting, its been done, and its been done to death. Worse yet, I’m sure they think they are opening up all sorts of story possibilities by doing this (in terms of the status of future elementals), but quite frankly this sounds like nothing more than scattering the pieces simply so you can make a big show out of putting them upright again. Very, very predictable, and very unnecessary. How about a new idea?

It just seems a terrible waste. The whole story reads like rote Vertigo, and that is hardly fitting for one of the most revolutionary characters in the history of mainstream comics. I’m glad I didn’t pay any money for this, and that’s about the most damning thing I can think of to say.

Bricktop A1 Special

If there is one thing in this world that I am sure of, it is that Glenn Fabry can draw the hell out of just about anything.

I have always been lukewarm on his painted work. Call me a punk, but it always seemed a bit off to me. Not that it wasn’t a perfect fir for Preacher, but there’s something disturbing about the way the skin in his paintings looks like crinkled papyrus.

But man, in the realms of pen & ink, he is simply untouchable. (I am pretty sure, by the way, that the bulk of his work is done directly on the page with a brush and maybe a technical pen [like a Rapidograph]. There’s just too much detail work for it to be otherwise. His thumbnail pencils must look like Paul Smith.) He can draw like a son of a bitch, and that’s just the fact.

The story in this compilation is, as you might imagine, pretty damn surreal. Despite what you may have heard, there are no actual radioactive bricks afoot, but there might as well be. There’s a whole lot of things happening for no reason whatsoever, and I personally love it. It’s chaos, pure and simple, things thrown on the page simply so Fabry can draw them. A pig on a motorcycle? Check. A midget sheriff? Check. Fundamentalist Christian bowling leagues? Check.

This basically your average hanging-out-getting-drunk-getting-into-trouble type story, except that the trouble happens to involve lots of explosions and beaver costumes. I read it only a couple days ago and already the details have slid away from me like so much gossamer. It doesn’t matter, because flipping through the book to reacquaint myself with the salient points only inspires me to gape at the purty pictures some more.

At only $3.50 for 32 pages, there’s more story in here than most $20.00 TPBs. This is an absolute steal, and if you are in the mood for nothing more than watching a virtuoso at work, there is no way you can possibly be disappointed by this stellar collection. If you’ve had enough of the decompressed storytelling that all the kids are talking about these days, this book should serve as a pleasant enema.

If I have one complaint, it’s the same complaint I had with Atomeka’s brilliant A1 Issue Zero compilation, as well as any number of other books lately. There’s no original publication data for the stories! It is so easy, just take a half-inch on the inside-cover to tell us when and where the stories were originally published. Makes my life easier, OK? Deal?

BTW, Here’s a scan of the San Diego Edition I found at Mile High Comics (which is where I get all my cover scans because I’m lazy). Neat, eh?

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